Young the Giant Look Inward on 'Mirror Master': 'To Be Vulnerable Is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing'
"I don't know how I ended up so close to where I started / I went to war for peace of mind, what was it for?"
Young the Giant frontman Sameer Gadhia asks this on "Tightrope," the ninth track from the band's new album, Mirror Master, released Friday (Oct. 12). His question is a notable one; it's certainly not the band's first bout with exploring personal identity. Time and again, Young the Giant have addressed internal struggle (their sophomore effort is titled Mind Over Matter; the chorus of the band's 2016 song "Something to Believe In" loops the lyric "Realize you're a slave to your mind, break free").
Yet, while rehashing a familiar topic, the Los Angeles-based quintet manages to do so from fresh angles. While radio-friendly Billboard Hot 100 hits like "Cough Syrup" and "My Body" from the band's self-titled debut put them on the map in 2011, it's evident that the group isn't content pumping out material that is easy to label. "In a world where people want to put a specific artist -- or anything, for that matter -- into a box because it’s easier to digest or understand, we don’t fit those boxes," says Gadhia. "And we never have."
Mirror Master sees Young the Giant taking another turn, transitioning the conversation from an external, overtly political focus on 2016's Home of the Strange to an inward, change-comes-from-within approach. The title track serves as an uplifting end to the project, depicting the mastery of self-image in the form of falling in love and starring in a movie of your own design. Even so, the album shines brightest when it forces us to wrestle with the facades that we put up on a daily basis. Standout track "Oblivion" melts away into vulnerability via a raucous, building instrumental that invites listeners to embrace their biggest fears en route to growth. "Darkest Shade of Blue" lends a beautifully comforting hand to those experiencing anxiety and depression, which Gadhia says everyone harbors.
Perhaps the newest direction is a continuing sign of camaraderie and maturity: Three of the band's members, Gadhia included, have gotten married in the past year-plus. Additionally, the members are clearly comfortable being open with one another in a way that comes only after spending an immense amount of time together. Nearly a decade after releasing their first project as Young the Giant, they all live within a mile of one another and hang out frequently, even during the band's rare off-time. Young the Giant have always sounded best in a "less is more" kind of way, and with Mirror Master, the group often leans in that direction. Through it all, Gadhia notes that, if anything, the project is "for us to be able to communicate with people and get stuff off of our chest."
Read Billboard's interview with Young the Giant's Sameer Gadhia below, and stream Mirror Master in full at the bottom.
What has you most excited about Mirror Master?
I’m just excited to play it live. Like every record, it’s very close and personal. The second you release it, it becomes something different entirely. I kind of always wish you could do it the other way around where you could tour and then record it. It’s just really exciting and really rounds out the whole set.
What is the overarching message of the album?
Where Home of the Strange was an external record looking at where America is, this record in a lot of ways is very reflective -- [Laughs] no pun intended -- for an internal search of a person. You look at yourself in the mirror every day and you see a different version of yourself. You’re not just this static thing. You encompass everything. In order to make any change in the world, you need to be okay with yourself first and all those different characters of who you are. You see everyone putting their best foot forward on their socials and look like a different version of themselves, [but] that’s just one dimension of who they are. In reality, all of us harbor anxiety, sadness [and] depression. We want to embrace all sides of who every person is and be vulnerable in that. You are master of your own image.
Political turmoil has only heightened since the release of Home of the Strange. Why transition then to something focusing more on self-being rather than continue to overtly discuss the country at large?
One of the best ways that you can start to make a difference in this world is by being okay with yourself. There are a lot of inconsistencies with the way that we live now and what our actual reality is. Only in the next few years will we really begin to see that the way that we feel -- this anxiety and this depression -- can be attributed social pressures of being on social media. In order to talk about politics, we have to talk about the feelings behind them as well and realize that there are illusions that all of us fall under.
This isn’t your first time discussing internal struggle. How has your message of figuring yourself out changed over your discography?
As individuals and as a band, we’ve grown up. We were like 19, 20 years old when we were writing [Young the Giant]. It’s always a snapshot of who we are as people, where we are as a band. Mind Over Matter was the first time we realized our full audience -- we were actually doing this for a living. The third record was wanting to share our story: the immigrant story. We’re not just a normal rock band with the same narrative. I came here -- well, my parents came here [as Indian immigrants] -- and I was like the guinea pig for American culture. That was also a big thing for me, having more awareness of my own culture and my identity. This record is along the same line: figuring out who I am internally now. It’s not just where I fit into the world, it’s like where I fit into myself.
"Oblivion" invites others to join you in being reckless and entering this abstract space. What exactly is the oblivion?
The oblivion can be whatever people’s biggest fears are. It’s just this idea that you can’t stomach. Everyone has this deepest fear of the worst thing happening in their whole life. But oftentimes, the things that really define you are those moments. [They’re] the things that really lead you into disarray where you are literally in this oblivion and you don’t know what’s up and what’s down, what’s right and what’s wrong. And it’s kind of like, almost embracing that doom because there is something to be learned from that. There is something to be learned from that pain. To be vulnerable is not necessarily a bad thing.
Is the instrumental on the back half of that song signifying disappearing into the oblivion?
Most definitely. That is the pure oblivion right there. I wanted that part to go on forever. I wanted to be able to continuously play that over and over. That is pure cacophony after you listen to it enough times, and it kind of becomes in itself calming, even though it is so chaotic.
“Glory” feels like an important step in the process of figuring yourself out. What were you trying to accomplish with that one?
That was probably one of the most self-effacing, most vulnerable lyrics that I wrote for the record. In some ways, my own paradox is the things that I am and the things that I’m not at the same time. In recent times, big bands have been able to hide behind these platitudes or cliches of what is okay to talk about. For a long time, people have been okay with that. I think as we’ve seen now more than ever, it’s really about being vulnerable and real.
Can you expand on that paradox you just mentioned?
Everyone contradicts themselves all the time. That's what it is to be human. “I’m a sinner of a broken church / I’m a saint drunk on the carpet.” I try to think of myself as a good person, but in the eyes of the church, I am most definitely a sinner. At the same time, I have my own personal demons that I need to worry about. There are just so many things in society that we believe to be all good or all bad. And obviously, they’re not. Everything is gray. Nothing is black or white.
In an album largely about self, why release singles that have to do with wanting something from someone else?
There’s a limit that you have to yourself. In order to really grow, sometimes you need to see your reflection in someone else. You need to have such a close relationship with someone that they know you in some ways that you refuse to know of yourself. If there is anything that is true in this world, there is this indescribable, and sometimes unwanted, feeling of love that is a universal aspect of humanity. This idea of connecting with someone else is in our DNA. At the end of the day, we can go into the philosophies of all this crazy shit, but if I have no one to share it with, then what’s the point?
You mentioned earlier your excitement about the live show. How has that changed over time? What’s your ideal audience?
[Our fans] are just so open-minded. They’re willing to embrace all that we are. They’re not just the cool kids who fold their arms and be like, “Well, this band is big now, and I don’t want to listen to these guys anymore.” They’re the people who really want to share their stories with us, and have us share with them. For us, just the sheer amount of music that we have now -- we have like 50-60 songs. Now, more than ever, it’s great that this is the record that we’re on. We get to choose what we want to reflect out into the world. We can be Young the Giant in many, many different ways. This set, every night will be a snapshot of who we are at that time.
With your last three albums, you’ve had a lot of success on the Billboard 200, but the last track that you had on the Hot 100 is “Cough Syrup.” Is there ever a concerted effort to re-create a big hit radio single?
We’re extremely grateful for the radio success that we have had. We acknowledge that we’ve gotten, at least a bit, to where we are because of that initial success. More than anything, we realized in all this time of writing that you can’t try to write something. You just need to try to be yourself. If a [Hot 100 song] does happen, that’s great. And if not, we’ve been able to build off the people who it really resonates with. And those are the people we want to communicate with.
Where does Young the Giant go from here?
As long as we continue to feel like we’re challenging ourselves, and we still want to grow as individuals and as a band, Young the Giant will exist in some shape or form. When we first started, we set out to be career artists. We didn’t even really know what that meant; we just knew that we wanted to be able to do this for a while. And here we are, coming to an end of the first decade, and we’re still here and we’re stronger than ever.